START Treaty: Mullen Delivers Tough Speech on Nuclear Weapons Agreement

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In a speech, Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated his support for the 'New START' agreement with Russia. Senior US military officials fear the nuclear weapons agreement is faltering in Congress.

Two decades after the cold war, and nearly one decade into the war in Afghanistan, America has largely forgotten about nuclear deterrence, worries the nation's top military officer.

In one of his strongest statements on the subject, Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated his support for the "New START" agreement with Russia, which he called "essential" to America's future security - and which senior US military officials fear is faltering in Congress.

He warned, too, of China's nuclear ambitions, and he floated the idea that "Russian adherence to date to the tenets of the new START indicates acceptance of our current and future missile-defense plans, despite public conjecture to the contrary in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres."

The subject of missile defense has been a sensitive one with Russian counterparts, says Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. This has remained the case, Ms. Gottemoeller says, even as she has repeatedly reminded her Russian counterparts of statements from President Obama and Russian President Medvedev acknowledging that negotiations around a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would include strategic offensive nuclear weapons.

"Did that shut the Russians up? No," Gottemoeller said in a September discussion with the Center for Media and Security in Washington. "I would have been surprised if we didn't hear about missile defenses from the Russians.... But that aside, there is absolutely nothing in this [new START] treaty that will affect our ability in the future to develop, build, and deploy missiles."

That appeared to be an effort to address concerns among some Republican members of Congress about the new START agreement.

Mullen, for his part, has sought to do the same.

"They say this gives the Russians what they want: no serious effort by the United States to develop and field such systems," Mullen argued last Friday before an audience that included Henry Kissinger at the Hoover Institution's conference on deterrence in Stanford, Calif. "There is nothing in the treaty that prohibits us from developing any kind of missile defense. …